Before I begin telling you about my home, you should know a little more about my native place.
I was born in a place called Sasthamkotta in Kollam district. A majority of the art films made in Malayalam like Mukhamukham, Elipathayam, Pokuveyil were filmed at Sasthamkotta. Ancient buildings, dirt road tracks can still be found here; maybe that’s why directors have a fondness for the place. The latest Adoor Gopalakrishnan film starring Dileep is being shot here too.
Our house was made of red stone blocks with coconut palm fronds roofing. On either sides of the house, there were large verandas. Some of the rooms were small and dingy. We used the attic to store old things. Every year the flooring got a makeover with a fresh layer of cow dung. My mother, few relatives and the ladies from the neighborhood used to pitch-in to help with this activity.
When I returned from school, I would find everything at home kept outside in the courtyard. The first layer is a mix of mud and cow dung. After this a coating of burnt coconut shells and powdered coconut husks was used to give it the finishing touches.
It is was equally interesting to watch all of them at work on the roof. The palm fronds were first left in the pond or stream to soak and soften. Once this is done, they were dried in the sun. One person would sit on the roof weaving the fronds and layering them neatly, while those standing below used to throw the fronds to the person on the roof.
Retouching a home was once upon a time a joint activity, done with gusto and camaraderie. Nobody used to help out for money. It was an understanding of sorts. When such houses disappeared, the helping mentality had vanished as well.
On the west portion of the house, there was a room from where makeshift stairs led to the attic. There was an old bed here made of Kanjiram or snake-wood. My mother gave birth to all my siblings and me on this bed. The main livelihood back then was farming and we used this room to store all the grains and vegetables after harvest. These were kept under the stairs. Pests like lizards, mice, centipedes used to roam freely in this room targeting all the stored food.
Nowadays, the TV is full of advertisements that that talk of ways to kill these creatures. We cohabited with these pests back then and we are fine! My 95 year old mother lives with me too.
Since I was the youngest in the family, I was their errand boy running to the shop to buy things. Our vacation trips to visit father’s ancestral house in Thiruvananthapuram was the only time we stayed away from home.
I did my MA at Pathanamthitta and used to stay at a lodge there. That was the time I missed home terribly and wrote many letters. My script for the film Punnarudhivasam was one such film where letter writing was an important tool to tell the story. The letters written during my college times helped me a lot in my script writing.
I never used to think much about saving up for the future or about the need to build my own house. When I was posted at MG University, I shifted base to Kottayam. My wife is from Vaikom. We lived in a number of rented homes in Vaikom. Then, after a lot of persuasion by my friends and family, I too decided to have a house of my own.
When you finally arrive at a decision to build a home, there are two options before you. You can either build a house with whatever little money you have or you can take a housing loan and borrow from here and there to build a large house. A house, where you can spend the rest of your debt ridden life; with the pain of sleeping on borrowed money.
I chose the first option. On a small piece of land from my wife’s share, I built a small and simple house. There was a small pond on my plot and many advised that I should cover that up. But my decision was to retain it as such and hence there is never any water shortage. With the children growing up, the house seemed small in size. There is a particular phase in the family when everyone turns to their own little islands. When the need arose, some additions were done to the house here and there.
Tales in Bamboo
As time progressed, I felt that there wasn’t enough space for me to indulge in my writing and reading. I had thoughts about making another room on top. It was during this time that I went on a tour to Thekkady with the students of my class.
At a resort there I saw little huts made of bamboo and l loved the idea. My friend, Dr. Vijay, had an Ayurveda hospital that was made out of bamboo too. I hoped to make a personal den with bamboo on my terrace. As I have artistic inclinations, I had the license to think differently and out of the box.
That’s when an engineer that I was acquainted with had come home. I spoke to him about this brainchild of mine. He took out his measuring tape and began taking measurements. He informed me that the approximate cost would come to about Rs 6000. I fell for this and work on the structure began the week after that. I had elaborate day dreams of creating one classic space after another from my bamboo den. I even invited my colleagues at the university to come visit my creative space.
When the work was completed, I was a happy man. As I was lying there one day, lost in my reverie, something fell on my face. It was a yellow powdery substance. It was all over the place on the wall and the floor. The bamboo was shedding the yellow powder. I called up the contractor to complain and he came by and tried to put a stop to it by applying a coat of varnish. This didn’t seem to help.
Some experts in the field then informed me that only bamboo specially treated with certain substances was used for construction. Finally, I got two workers to help me take down the bamboo structure. In its place came a room with good old brick and mortar.
The desire to journey along paths never taken before has been kept aside for now! My Surya namaskar, yoga and writing activities all happen here without any disturbances now. My wife and kids do taunt me at times with my 'bamboo tales.'
I just pretend to ignore the mockery. After all, isn’t it human to err?